For better or worse, beer and rugby are intrinsically linked in New Zealand. The money from beer sponsorship has kept many a small club alive, but has also contributed to the culture of binge drinking after games, including the infamous court sessions. This mix of big breweries and mass-swelling means the beer of choice for many beer fans is some insipid, sweet lager – it’s also usually the only thing on offer at the ground or sports bar.
Originally I thought the Rugby World Cup was shaping up to be more of the same. With Heineken’s purchase of the beer sponsorship and the draconian measures of MEMA, the only beer to be consumed or spoken of at the games was the terrible Dutch lager. Outside of the games, Steinlager’s tv ad, which rather cleverly side-stepped the conditions of MEMA, was the talk of the town – and unfortunately seems to have worked. The day of the opening ceremony I happened to be in the beer aisle at the supermarket, where a dad was loading boxes of the nostalgic white cans into his trolley. ‘This is all Daddy’s going to be drinking for the entirety of the World Cup,’ he proudly informed his young son who was also in the trolley. I hate to think in how many other supermarkets this scene took place.
But none of this is new really; what is new is that while this is still the norm, there is now alternatives. We no longer have to drink rubbish beer while we watch the rugby. I spent the NZ vs Japan match quite enjoyably at Galbraiths Ale House, made more so by the company, beer (Yeastie Boys Lady Marmalade and a Bob’s) and that they had chosen to turn off the commentary.* Galbraiths has actually gone DB-free and therefore there’s not a bottle of Heineken to be found in the place. The wonderful Ireland vs Australia game was spent at a mate’s, drinking Croucher Pilsner and Emerson’s Clam Stout. Last Saturday, I watched the All Blacks thrash Japan at the SkySport Grill who have twelve craft beers on tap.** We now have choice – not between different types of flavourless lager, but between many different beers and even different venues. Aucklanders can enjoyed a chilled-out pint of Bob’s, roar with the crowd at SkySport Grill with a Tuatara Helles in hand or stock up the fridge at home for a cozy night in watching the men in black.
Of course this isn’t the case everywhere – my Dad is still without a craft beer tap anywhere in his home town of New Plymouth. But by the next World Cup, thing might have changed – maybe even New Plymouth will have a craft beer bar where you can watch our national team with a truly nationalistic beer in hand – made in New Zealand, owned by New Zealanders and even New Zealand-styled.
* I loathe professional rugby commentary. It’s basically just a pile of clichés strung together and they’re too damn polite. My mates are generally more entertaining and make more sense. My only exception is the great guys on the Maori channel who make very little attempt to be neutral and say wonderful things like ‘Aw, cuz, what did you do that for?’
**Admittedly, this was the only good thing about the Grill – there weren’t enough staff or toilets and none of the seats seemed to face any of the screens.